A couple of weeks ago, my friend Emily invited me to the “Pleasures of Frutti di Mare”, a seafood cooking class at Cicchetti. It was the first class being taught by their new Chef (Josh Green), and I found it particularly appealing because the previous night I had attempted a pan-seared cod and I’m pretty sure I did it wrong. Tasted fine, but my technique sucked.
I was the first person to arrive and claimed a seat at the counter. The main floor had been rearranged so that the nine guests could be seated in two rows, but if the front row turned around, they’d be sitting around the second row’s table. Does that make sense? It was so nice to just swivel on our stools and be face-to-face with the people who were behind us, and essential because we were able to enjoy our first dish (freshly shucked oysters) together, seated as one party.
Each place was set with a booklet that included the class agenda, what was to be demo’d and plenty of space to take notes. The last few pages included actual recipes so that we could attempt to recreate the dishes at home, though I am pretty sure I will just leave it to the professionals. Above us, a mirror was positioned so that we cook look up and see what was happening on the counter.
Once everyone was seated and had a glass of wine, the Chef got started. First, he demonstrated how to properly shuck oysters, emphasizing that they should really only be shucked about 20 minutes before they are going to be eaten. If you’re going to throw them on the grill (really!? I didn’t know you could do that!), they need about 6-8 minutes to pop open.
After indulging in plenty of freshly-shucked oysters with a shallot mignonette (so tart and fantastic), we moved on to our second course. The Chef put two large Dungeness crabs into a pot of water that was flavored with wine, lemons, onions and harissa, my absolute favorite spice (buy it here). When they were done about 10 minutes later, we learned how to take apart the body of the crab and how to crack the legs and claws just enough so that if you were to serve crab at a party, you wouldn’t need all of the fancy tools to take the meat out of the shell. The crabs were ultimately served with some freshly grilled Columbia City Bakery bread and a cocktail sauce that was included in our recipe packet. Simple and delicious.
Our next course was salmon! The chef brought out a massive fish and demonstrated how to properly de-bone (use needle-nose pliers!) and fillet the fish and how to tie a salmon steak. He put three skillets into the 800 degree wood-burning oven with just a little bit of oil, sprinkled a dill pollen spice rub onto the fillets and then placed them directly into the hot pans and returned them to the oven. A few minutes later, he pulled them out and served the fish on a bed of a white bean and arugula salad.
Finally, the Chef Josh threw a bunch of mussels into another hot skillet and put it directly into the oven so that they started popping open just from the heat. The most important thing about mussels is to make sure that they open fully before you eat them. If they don’t, it’s probably because they were dead before you tried to cook them and they’ll make you sick! The mussels were served with a lemon wedge in another no-fuss display of how simple can truly be the best way to get the most from your seafood.
The main technique from the class that I feel I can replicate at home was how to cook and shell the crab, and I honestly could have eaten that cocktail sauce by the spoonful, it was so good. The overarching lesson was that it’s important to establish a good relationship with your fish purveyors because they will help to ensure that you get the freshest ingredients and that’s the number one step to creating a successful dish. Visit Taylor Shellfish in the Melrose Market, Pure Food Fish Market in Pike Place Market or Mutual Fish on Rainier for your future seafood needs.
Many thanks to Chef Josh for the great class and wonderful food, and to Emily for inviting me to attend! It was the PERFECT way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday and I can’t wait for the next class!
Check out the upcoming classes and other events at Serafina and Cicchetti by visiting them online at: http://serafinaseattle.com/events. Cooking classes are great for couples and friends and make great gifts!